New system is one of the few to create strong, solid glass structures from computerized designs. 3D printing technology was first initiated in MIT, which in recent years has encompassed a wide variety of materials. The cost of the 3D printers has gone down substantially making it an household consumer items.
A team of MIT researchers has opened up a new frontier in 3D printing: the ability to print optically transparent glass objects in the recent times. The new system was developed by Neri Oxman, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab; Peter Houk, director of the MIT Glass Lab; MIT researchers John Klein and Michael Stern; and six others.
The system developed by the MIT team retains the high temperature producing printed glass objects which are both strong and fully transparent. Like any other 3D printers available in the market, the device can print designs created in a computer-assisted design program, producing a finished product.
In the latest version, the molten glass is loaded into a hopper from the top of the device after being gathered by a conventional glassblowing kiln. After completion, the finished piece is cut away from the moving platform on which it is assembled.
The stream of glowing molten glass from the nozzle resembles honey as it coils onto a platform, cooling and hardening as it goes.
The only challenge the researchers faced was to keep the filament of glass hot enough so that the next layer of the structure would stick to it, but not so hot that the structure gets collapsed into a shapeless lump. Eventually they ended up producing three separate components which can be heated independently to the required temperatures: the upper reservoir for the stock of molten glass, the nozzle at the bottom of that chamber, and a lower chamber where the printed object is built up. This new process allows unprecedented control over the glass shapes which is produced.
The research is further being carried out for adding pressure to the system, either via mechanical plunger or through compressed gas in order to produce a uniform flow and thereby get a uniform width to the extruded filament of glass.